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Japan in a Word

和製英語

Wasei Eigo

Japan has a reputation for making quality “Japan-made” products, but who could have guessed that it also produces “Japan-made” English words? These types of words are called 和製英語 (wasei eigo): English words that have been transformed, remixed and adapted into Japanese to create new meanings.

Not to be confused with 外来語 (gairaigo; loan words), 和製英語 has a Japanese-spin on the meaning of the words. Think of it as Japanese in disguise!

Take for example, the word サラリーマン (sararī man; salaryman), which refers to white-collar workers, especially in Japan. The term is not based on an official English word, but rather, it combines the two English words “salary” and “man” to produce a new “English” word that is totally unique to the Japanese language. This is pretty amazing when you think about it.

和製英語 is common in Japanese, and is widely used in everyday conversation.

Put yourself to the test and try and to guess the meanings of some of these 和製英語! To check if you’ve guessed right, please refer to the answers below.

 

  1. コンセント (consento; consent)
  2. キャッチボール(kyacchi bōru; catch ball)
  3. ペーパードライバー (pēpā doraibā; paper driver)
  4. マイナスドライバー (mainasu doraibā; minus driver)
  5. シャープペンシル (shāpu penshiru; sharp pencil)
  6. プリクラ (puri kura; print club)

 

Answers:

  1. A コンセント actually refers to a power outlet. Imagine a scenario where you are asked for consent to use your コンセント!
  2. This term has two meanings: one is to play catch, and the other refers to a banter-like back-and-forth exchange in conversation.
  3. This refers to people who hold a driver’s licence, but never drive, so their licence is just a meaningless piece of paper.
  4. A マイナスドライバー doesn’t refer to a vehicle operator; instead, it refers to a flat head screwdriver. And just so you know, a プラスドライバー(purasu doraibā; plus driver) refers to a Phillips head (or crosshead) screwdriver.
  5. You may have imagined a pencil that has been sharpened, but a シャープペンシル is actually a mechanical pencil.
  6. A プリクラ is a photo booth often found in arcades and gaming centres all over Japan, where a small group of people can take photos, decorate them and have them printed all in the one place. You may even have encountered some at your local arcade!

ガチャポン

Gachapon

Gachapon is a coin-operated vending machine similar to a gumball machine, however, instead of gumballs, カプセル (kapuseru; capsules) containing おもちゃ (omocha; toys) are dispensed. The name “gacha” and “pon” derives from the sounds made when using the capsule machine. As you spin the dial, the machine makes a “ガチャガチャ” sound, and “ポン” is when the capsule pops out of the machine.

Since their debut in 1965 Japan, they have become so popular that there are even stores dedicated to ガチャポン machines such as ガチャポン会館 (Gachapon kaikan; Gachapon hall) in 秋葉原 (Akihabara). These stores often change the machines every month, so collectors can look forward to finding new toys each time. These toys include フィギュア (figua; figurines) from popular anime and manga, amusing key chains such as 猫寿司 (nekozushi; cat sushi), and even interesting collectibles such as underwear for your drink bottle.

The best thing about ガチャポン is not knowing which toy will come out next. Depending on the machine, it will cost around 100-500 yen per play, so if you ever come across these machines on your next trip to Japan, please give them a spin!

義理チョコ

Giri choko

14 February is the universally recognised バレンタインデー (barentain dei; the Saint Valentine’s Day). In Japan, this is an occasion when women generally give chocolates to men who reciprocate one month later.

There are different types of chocolate giving which are categorised according to the relationship between the giver and the recipient. 義理チョコ (girichoko; obligation chocolate) is given to a colleagues and bosses as a token of gratitude, while本命チョコ (honmei choko; chocolate with true love) is reserved for a romantic partner. There is also 友チョコ (tomo choko) for 友達 (tomodachi; friends).

While 義理チョコ has a role of expressing gratitude and friendship in Japanese society, this commercialised annual event has placed emotional and financial pressure on some women.

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